Why a retired greyhound is the perfect pet... by Northern Ireland woman who has helped rehome 400 of them
A Belfast woman who works to find homes for retired greyhounds has urged people to consider adopting them as a family pet.
Tara Fitzpatrick got the bug for greyhound racing from her father, and has helped rehome more than 400 of the dogs over the last eight years.
Although she admits she struggles to watch the animals she adores competing, she steps in when retirement from the sport comes calling.
According to Tara, the racing life of a greyhound can be surprisingly short.
Some are retired at just three years old, though most compete for five or six years before their track days are over.
No longer needed for racing, many face an uncertain future - and that is where Tara steps in.
"You'd be surprised," she said.
"They're actually very lazy, low maintenance pets. They're full of love and just need a good home to show what they're capable of as a family pet.
"Most people don't think of a greyhound as a pet. They're seen as purely racing dogs, but they're much, much more than that."
The sport of greyhound racing got a new lease of life in Northern Ireland when the new Drumbo Stadium at Ballyskeagh opened two months ago, with racing on Saturday nights and the prospect of opening on Sundays from the end of this month.
Drumbo is now playing a role in running sponsored nights to raise funds for retired greyhounds, and it is giving Tara the opportunity to introduce the dogs as something more than racing professionals.
"My dad was always into greyhound racing and around 20 years ago, when I came home after living in Italy, I had quite a bad illness. Walking the dogs got me out and about and helped my recovery," she said.
"I could never enjoy watching them race after seeing one of ours break a leg. After that I was more interested in their welfare, making sure they had somewhere to call home when the racing days were over.
"I've always been surrounded with greyhounds. They've taken over my life. I'm nearly 50 and never got married. I get all the love and happiness I need from the dogs.
"But there isn't really any other organisation in Northern Ireland helping to find homes for the dogs when they can no longer race.
"I hate to think the only option might be to take them to the vet to be put to sleep when there might be a perfect home out there for them."
Tara has 10 greyhounds of her own, but over the past eight years she has helped to rehome over 400.
"Since January this year we've already taken in 75 more dogs and there are another 30 on the waiting list to come in," she said.
All the dogs are currently homed in private kennels in Antrim by Tara's friend and partner in the crusade, Ciara Darby.
"We often host walks, at either Lady Dixon Park in Belfast or in Antrim Gardens, and it's wonderful to see the reception the dogs get when they're out.
"They're always so friendly and so pleased to be given the attention they deserve, but people still see them and say: 'Look at the racing dogs'.
"But they all need loving homes the same as any other. They're very healthy and have none of the inherited problems of many other breeds. They're not prone to ailments and are very easy to look after. They spend most of the day relaxing and snoozing."
Last Sunday Tara was out in Lady Dixon Park for the annual charity Autumn Walk, which gave people the chance to interact with the dogs, get to know their temperaments and how they react around people and children.
"We're grateful to those who attended and bought stuff from our stand," said Tara.
"All funds raised will be going straight to the dogs in our care, helping to keep them fit and ready for future homing.
"It was also a good day for the dogs as three of them were adopted and we wish them and their new families many happy years together.
"We thank them for opening their hearts and their homes to this wonderful, gentle breed."
Tara's organisation, Greyhounds Rehoming NI, can usually be found at Drumbo Park race nights, and can be contacted on facebook at 'All About Greyhounds Rehoming NI'.